Q and A with NYRA Oddsmaker David Aragona

Horse Racing Radar
Rich Bieglmeier
Rich Bieglmeier is a Staff writer for Horse Racing Radar
Thursday, July 8, 2021

The wizard behind morning line odds for Belmont Park, Saratoga and Aqueduct racetracks is this week's The Player's Edge Guest. Make sure you join us at 9:30 pm eastern. As always, expect to learn something new to add to your handicapping toolbox. Of course, there will be picks too, for the Belmont Derby, Belmont Oaks and Victory Stakes.

Make sure you follow David on Twitter at:

HRR: Like so many others we've talked with, your love of horseracing started with trips to the track with your father. In your opinion, what can the industry do to make the track more family friendly? 

David Aragona: Making a track "family friendly" could be as simple as lowering prices on concessions and allowing outside food and drink. And activities or music performances that enhance the atmosphere can't hurt. However, merely getting families in the doors won't convert people into returning fans of the sport without a more concerted effort, which includes fan education, an attractive wagering menu with lower takeouts, etc. Tracks should be trying to help people win, whether they're big bettors or small, because winners are more likely to return. 

HRR: As a youngster, you watched a lot of horse races on VHS and DVD, what did you see in the races that helped form your handicapping skills?

David Aragona: That was before I became familiar with the handicapping and betting side of the sport. It's still thrilling to go back and watch some of those classic races, but I can't help but view them with a little more nuance than I did as a kid. I would say that early exposure to racing broadcasts from the ‘80s and ‘90s simply gave me an appreciation for the drama of racing, and the horses themselves.  

HRR: You have a few advanced degrees, one in Computer Science and one in Music. In another podcast, you mentioned that you liked studying music theory. Much like music, horse races have a rhythm – pace in our lingo – how does understanding the flow of music help you see the races? 

David Aragona: Wow, you really did your research for that one! I can't say that I've thought too much about that comparison. When I think of rhythm in horse racing, I guess I first imagine the rhythm of a horse's gait, and how jockeys have to synchronize with their mounts. I don't know if it has much to do with music, but I like to pay attention to the more subtle details in that relationship. 

HRR: You set the morning lines for the NYRA tracks, Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. You also handicap and said the two are of different minds. Please explain the difference between setting the line and handicapping? 

David Aragona: The objective of setting a morning line is to predict what the final odds are going to be at post time. The objective of handicapping is to formulate your own opinions about how the races will be run, and what the result will be. And, of course, betting is about capitalizing on those opinions by choosing the right wagers and horses. In some ways they all overlap, but each is a separate consideration. 

HRR: To set the line, you focus on what the public is going to put emphasis on i.e., the most popular betting angles, trainer, jockey, speed figures... However, you set the lines for the NY circuit which has some of the deepest money pools. That means rebate houses and betting syndicates have a heavy influence on the final odds. To what degree do you factor in rebates houses and betting syndicates? 

David Aragona: Not much at all. From my perspective, it doesn't matter so much who is betting as opposed to observing how they're betting. And unless the "who" is changing dramatically from one day to the next, it's not really something I need to consider that strongly—provided I have some base of knowledge about how they've bet in the past. 

HRR: Much like a Wall Street analyst might do with hedge funds, do you try to replicate their models or have any sort of communication with them to get an understanding of their thinking?

David Aragona: I've been doing alright using my own methods, so I haven't really considered it. 

HRR: Do they reach out to you? 

David Aragona: No. 

HRR: You said that you also look to see which horses people are getting the most attention on social media. How do you do that? Do you search by horse's name, track name, race or are they specific accounts you follow?  

David Aragona: I would say this is a rare scenario, primarily in stakes races. For instance, in the Kentucky Derby there are certain "buzz" horses every year. That's what I was getting at. 

HRR: Which social media accounts would horseplayers be wise to follow? 

David Aragona: I focus on the NY circuit, so I follow a lot of accounts that report on or analyze NY racing. My DRF colleague Dave Grening is a must, as is NYRA analyst Andy Serling, assuming he hasn't already blocked you. Though, people should follow whomever they find engaging or insightful.  

HRR: There were a few things that you mentioned on other shows that aren't written about in any books, scholarly papers or found in everyday resources. With first time starters, you pointed out that a trainer putting his/her two year-old in with stakes horses is usually a good sign; a claim being voided could be a negative, jockeys winning under specific conditions. I believe the example you used was Joel Rosario in turf sprints. Equibase has separate trainer/jockey stats available for distance and surface, but they aren't granular to distance on a specific surface. I have never seen who trainers are working their horses with and if claims are voided. Where can the average horseplayer find/get access to this kind of info and more? 

David Aragona: There's quite a bit to unpack here. Looking at free tools like the Equibase charts can get you so far. But there are many past performance products out there that allow you to dive deeper into the details. Personally, as a DRF guy, I use their Formulator product extensively to look up statistics with very specific filters. Especially for trainer patterns, that data can be enlightening. And while I do like to rely on statistics quite a bit, I also try to use my eyes to watch trips or look up workouts. It's not an exact science, but I try to get as close as I can to getting a window into a horse's situation, or a trainer's intentions. Often, I'm still left guessing, but that's part of the fun. 

HRR: Making personal morning lines is essential for horseplayers who want to bet value. Horses with odds higher than your personal morning line. This has always baffled me. Most semi-experienced horse players can rank horses on a myriad of things that accurately rank horses that reflect the odds at post time but creating their probability of winning (the odds) is the hard part. What process would you recommend or is there a book(s) you would suggest for those who want to make their own lines?  

David Aragona: Making a value line isn't that hard if you can make a spreadsheet. Some people like to actually work out the fair price for each horse that way, and others just sort of get a feel for doing it mentally. If you want to actually make your own line, with a little Googling you can find some good information about how to convert odds into a points system. Whereas a morning line adds up to about 125 points or so, a value line would add up to 100, because the goal is to beat the takeout over time. That's the essence of that much used term "value." 

HRR: You said handicapping Belmont and Saratoga are more difficult because they tend to attract horses from all over the country and world. You must have a track ranking system or grouping. For example, how does a horse shipping in from PARX differ from a horse shipping in from Ellis Park? How do you breakdown the tracks? 

David Aragona: I know some people like to look at generalized or average stats for shippers from one track to another. Personally, I like to zoom in a bit more and compare the specific races and horses. I suppose if you're doing some quick handicapping, general shipper info is useful to have in your back pocket. However, if I'm really dissecting a race, I just assess the quality of the fields horses are exiting to get a sense of who they faced, often using speed figures. Horses shipping from Parx to Belmont may do poorly on average, but a given horse may be exiting an unusually strong or fast race at Parx. I think that's more valuable. 

HRR: One last question. As a handicapper, when I meet somebody for the first time and they ask the "what do you do for a living question," almost always I get the delayed, double-take, did he say what I think he just said reaction. What sort of reactions do you get? 

David Aragona: The two most common responses I get are the one you cited, and "Cool. But does your employer allow you to bet?"


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